3/21: Gators excited about defensive possibilities

With the Florida Gators starting spring practice for the 2011 season last Wednesday, the school made a number of the team’s defense players available to the media as the second week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new defense under head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

SOPHOMORES FINALLY ADJUSTED

Though sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd seemed to adjust well in 2010, the same cannot be said for linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell and DT Dominique Easley. Powell buckled down and got more opportunities to see the field later in the year, but Easley appeared to be a problem off the field who needed to get his head on straight and get his mind in the game. Months later, all seems well with the trio of five-star players who are ready and focused to compete in 2011.

“I don’t think it was a case of us not being focused last year,” Floyd said. “New coming into a program, fresh out of high school, we had to get adjusted to things and I think we all got the gist of it.” He noted that, after the season was over, everything came together for the group. With Floyd improving his game and Powell happy in the new system (see below), the only question that remains is Easley’s level of dedication. He was not made available on Monday, and Floyd deflected questions about him when asked.

“He’s my roommate; he’s my brother. I take care of him; he takes care of me. He looks after me; I look after him,” he said, before responding to whether or not Easley is completely on board this year. “That’s a question for him. I know he’s a lot more focused than last year. He’s seeing the big picture now.”

POWELL, FLOYD MAKING STRIDES

Speaking of Powell and Floyd, both players are going to be counted on to have a major impact on the defense in 2011. Powell is already noticing the differences and is excited about the possibilities. “It’s a great fit for me. A great fit. Dan Quinn and Bryant Young, they’re great coaches. The system that they’re running is a great fit,” he said. “I’m loving it. Loving it. It’s more freedom. You don’t have to have your hand in the ground all the time. You can stand up. It’s kind of my choice.” Powell, playing buck linebacker, will have options of standing up, putting his hand down, dropping or rushing; this will allow him to take advantage of his athleticism to cover the field and cause maximum damage.

Like his teammate, Floyd has cut out poor habits (such as standing up too high, not being physical enough and not using his hands correctly) and is more focused on doing what it takes to succeed. “I had a lot of bad tendencies last year,” he said. “That was my fault, obviously. Listening to [Young] and getting in his ear, wanting to learn what he knows – that’s helping me a lot more play with my hands and stay lower, things like that.”

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW DEFENSE

Junior LB Jon Bostic: “The main thing with this defense is [that it’s] backwards and forwards. If you play Mike, you play Will. A guy may motion across; you can go from being the Mike to the Will. A lot of the stuff – you got to know everything.”

Senior DE William Green: “I like it a lot. I’m really excited about what we’re doing.”

Redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins: “I like it a lot. It seems like it really frees up the linebackers and allows us to run a little bit. […] We’re going to be the same defense that we’ve always been at Florida. We’re going to run, hit hard, keep being relentless and be aggressive. That’s kind of how we’ve always been; that’s not going to be a difference.”

Redshirt junior DE/LB Lerentee McCray*: “I love the new defense. You’ve just got to see it on the field. It’s a different concept, a different style of defense.”

QUOTES

Bostic on playing for his third defensive coordinator: “I like it because I’m actually getting to learn different types of defenses, how different coaches coach different defenses. It’s not really a change to me; I kind of see it as another learning aspect.”

Bostic on how the team is progressing: “Everybody’s picking up. It’s going pretty fast, but everybody’s helping each other out. We’re trying to talk a lot more out there than we did. Everybody’s got to help everybody.”

Green on Quinn: “I like him a lot. He’s a real good technician guy. He’s a real good high-energy guy, and a real good person, too. I’m enjoying the coaches a lot.”

Green on stepping up to be a leader: “I feel like I’m four years older than everybody out there. It’s time to be an example for all the young guys. This is my time to step up and really help the team.”

McCray on playing the buck position*: “It’s helping my career. It’s easy to adjust to both [linebacker and defensive end]. I like it. It gives me the opportunity to do the things a linebacker does, and rush and drop into coverage. I like playing it.”

Redshirt freshman Gerald Christian on moving to linebacker^: “At first I didn’t know why, but they told me it’s the best fit for the team. They need big bodies playing linebacker, so they wanted to try me out there. I’m No. 1 on the depth chart right now, but I’ve still got to earn the position. Nothing’s set in stone, but I feel like I’m going to bust my butt every day.”

Attribution: Quotes without marks were acquired by OGGOA. Those marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun, and those with a ^ are courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

Gators pick up commitment from 2012 OL Dunker

Though he allowed the recruiting process to play out by taking visits to a handful of Southeastern Conference schools, it always seemed like four-star offensive tackle Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) would end up with the Florida Gators. The 6’6”, 315 lbs. recruit made it a reality on Monday when he officially announced his intent to attend the University of Florida in 2012.

“It wasn’t hard of a choice after I really thought about it,” Dunker told the Palm Beach Post. “It’s a comfort level with the coaches, the atmosphere there and the support the sports teams get, the experience the coaching staff has.”

In addition to visiting Florida, Dunker had taken trips to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU. He was originally planning to make his decision next January but decided to get it out of the way to focus on school.

“I talked to Coach [Aubrey] Hill first and as soon as I told him he started jumping up and down,” Dunker told Rivals. “I guess all of the coaching staff was there together, so they heard that I committed and they just started yelling and stuff. Coach [Will] Muschamp told me I made his year. He was really excited about it.”

Not only does Dunker have an outstanding opportunity at early playing time due to the Gators lacking offensive line depth, his big stature and frame provide him with plenty of size and strength right out of the gate.

Notre Dame C Wenger may transfer to Florida

Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after sustaining two concussions during fall practice in 2010, Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Dan Wenger has decided he would rather spend his final season in college elsewhere. According to the South Bend Tribune, Wenger requested and received an unconditional release from head coach Brian Kelly and has his sights set on joining the Florida Gators.

Should a transfer to Florida be accepted by the university, Wenger would reunite with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci, the two men who originally recruited him to the Irish.

Kelly accepted Wenger’s transfer because ND doctors would not clear him to play. “The young man still wants to play, and I’m not going to stand in the way,” he told the Tribune.

In order to be immediately eligible and avoid sitting out a transfer season, Wenger would have to find a graduate degree program offered at UF but not currently available at Notre Dame. He is a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Coral Springs, FL) and started 13 games at center for the Irish in 2008.

Redshirt junior Sam Robey is currently listed as the Gators’ starting center. Should Wenger transfer, he would most likely be a reserve if he is able to be cleared medically.

OGGOA will update this story when more information is made available.

Photo Credit: ChicagoNow/Unknown

3/21: Donovan on Boynton’s ankle, facing BYU

Two days after his team advanced to the Southeast Regional Semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Tournament after defeating the No. 7-seed UCLA Bruins 73-65, No. 2-seed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to discuss his team and its upcoming game against the No. 3-seed BYU Cougars on Thursday. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the press conference.

SIGNS POINTING TO “GO” FOR BOYNTON

As sophomore guard Kenny Boynton laid on the court in agony Saturday with the game up for grabs, Florida’s chances of advancing looked to have suffered a setback. Just minutes later, Boynton returned from getting his sprained ankle taped up by the trainers and continued to play as UF took down UCLA. Immediately after the game, Donovan noted the Boynton had suffered a mild sprain and would likely miss practice this week but be good-to-go on Thursday against BYU. He reinforced that opinion on Monday.

“We fully expect him to play. He’s not going to do anything [Monday] in practice,” he said. “He definitely has some discomfort there, but I don’t feel like it’s a discomfort that will prevent him from playing. […] I’m still a little bit cautious of where he’s at because I haven’t seen him sprint, cut, change direction, do those kind of things. Kenny has had some ankle problems during his career. He has sprained that ankle quite a bit; he’s had to deal with it at different times during his career. I also think there’s probably a mental hurdle for him that he’s going to need to get over.”

Boynton, who is neither wearing a walking boot nor utilizing crutches, has already seen the swelling go down. Like in the 2010 match-up, he would have been tasked with defending Cougars star G Jimmer Fredette the majority of the time on Saturday. With a tender ankle, Boynton will probably have some help in that endeavor this time around.

“There’s going to be a lot of guys on [Fredette],” Donovan said. “Last year, because of our lack of depth, Boynton was having such a good offensive night he got worn out as we got into the first overtime, second overtime. I don’t think it can be one guy. Whoever’s going to be on him, they’re going to be on an island by themselves.”

That being said, Donovan does believe Boynton is the team’s best on-the-ball defender, comparing him to Corey Brewer and Justin Hamilton in terms of athleticism and ability to avoid screens. “What makes him good is he’s got great, great feet and he’s got great lateral movement. He can play close enough to people and keep people out of the lane,” he said. “He can really spread himself out, and athletically he can really move his feet. Because of his feet and his speed, he’s a guy that can get off and around screens.”

FIGURING OUT FREDETTE

Donovan had a chance to see Fredette last year, months before the hype machine surrounding him really got underway. Since then, he has been enthusiastic about what Fredette has been able to accomplish. “It’s pretty impressive what he has been able to do coming out of last year, taking his game and his team to a different level than they were a year ago,” he said. “I always have great admiration and respect when somebody can do what he did last year, have the publicity and exposure that he had last year, and then do it even better this year.”

Due to his experience coaching against Fredette, Donovan knows that there is no stopping him – but it is possible to contain him. “I really thought we did a pretty nice job defending Fredette last year. In regulation he had 23 points and then he exploded in the overtimes and ended up with 37,” he said. “If you look at the stat sheet, it was really the other players. They made 10 three-point shots in the game a year ago, and Fredette made three of them. There were other guys on that stat sheet that played well.”

That being said, Donovan also realizes that there is no underestimating or overlooking what Fredette brings to the table. “He’s going to make some very difficult shots,” he said. “Every game that he’s played, everybody’s trying to stop him, everybody’s trying to slow him down. He still averages 28 a game; he still does it regardless.”

TYUS THE UNSUNG HERO

With a career-high 13 rebounds on Saturday, senior forward Alex Tyus’s contributions against UCLA were certainly overlooked by the majority of fans and analysts. What Tyus was able to do throughout the game did not get past Donovan, who provided him with plenty of praise on Monday. “The one thing that got lost on the game that no one really talked about was Alex Tyus’s rebounding the last two minutes of the game – where we limited them to one shot and at least we closed the gap on the rebounding margin,” he said before discussing Tyus’s performance as a whole this season.

“I am really proud of him. People hear me talk about Chandler [Parsons], and there’s been a lot of talk about Chandler just because he was [SEC] Player of the Year and there was a lot more attention on Chandler and the way Chandler was playing the last eight games of the year. But I have an enormous amount of respect for Alex, just his attitude and the way he’s approached this year.

“He has been all about the team. He has been all about winning. The one thing we’ve tried to explain to Alex is, because of his athleticism, he can have an impact on the game regardless of if he gets the ball or doesn’t get the ball. His impact on the game was huge; we were getting killed on the backboard. We had 10 rebounds in the first half; Alex had six of them. And then he got seven in the second half.

Erving Walker’s points overshadowed really a big part [of the win]. Those plays kind of get lost. Alex has had a great year. His points may not be what they were, but he’s given up very similar to what [Joakim] Noah, [Al] Horford and Brewer have done for the betterment of our team. He could score more points, but I’m not so sure our team would be where it could be. I do have confidence that, on any given night, Alex could get 20 points. We do need his energy, we do need his rebounding, and we do need his defense. When he does that, it really adds a dimension to our frontcourt.”

QUOTES

On the game being a rematch from 2010: “We could play better than we played last year in the NCAA Tournament and still not beat these guys. […] For us to even think about last year, we have our hands filled just worrying about this BYU team this year. Because this year, they’re better than they were a year ago. We could play better than we did a year ago and still not beat this team.”

On whether or not Florida has improved as well: “We are better as a team, but that does not necessarily mean we are going to play better in the game. […] We’re a little bit of a deeper team than maybe we were a year ago.”

On BYU as a team: “They’re a better team than they were a year ago. Jimmer certainly gets a lot of publicity and a lot of exposure, but it’s really their whole team. He’s certainly a hard guy to defend and stop, but they’ve also got some other good players.”

On Walker controlling the game: “What Erving’s got to understand is, he can’t just think at the end of the game, ‘OK, I’m just going to go right now,’ because he’s got to make the right decision. He can’t allow his competitiveness put our team at a disadvantage.”

SIX BITS: awards, softball, lacrosse, gymnastics

1 » Florida Gators track and field head coach Mike Holloway was honored with the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s National Men’s Indoor Head Coach of the Year award on Friday for the second-straight year. Holloway, who has led Florida to back-to-back NCAA Indoor Championships over the last two seasons, continues to rack up the national and regional awards. One of his assistants on the men’s team, Dick Booth was awarded National Men’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA as well.

2 » The state of Mississippi was no match for No. 2/3 Florida softball (30-1, 6-0 SEC) this week as the Gators took down the Mississippi State Bulldogs (12-14, 2-2 SEC) at home in a pair of contests during the week and swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-21, 0-6 SEC) in a three-game road series over the weekend. Florida outscored Ole Miss 37-6 over the course of the three games and made the most out of nearly every opportunity.

Senior first baseman Megan Bush set a new school record and now has a 19-game hitting streak after turning in a spectacular performance in which she combined to go 6-9 from the plate with 10 RBI, three runs and four walks. On the hill for the Gators all weekend was freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (16-1), who started all three contests and did not allow a single earned run all weekend. In 9.0 innings, Rogers only gave up five hits, three unearned runs and three walks while striking out nine batters. Also turning in stellar performances in the three-game set were senior second baseman Aja Paculba (4-10, 6 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB), freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (3-11, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB) and senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (4-6, 4 RBI, 5 R, 6 BB).

3 » Continuing to excel in only their second year in existence, No. 8/10 Gators lacrosse (8-1) took down another ranked opponent by defeating the No. 11/14 Syracuse Orange (2-4) 16-11 on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns tied her career high (and school record) with six goals; she also notched an assist for a season-high total of seven points. Florida received plenty of scoring help from sophomore midfielders Kitty Cullen and Brittany Dashiell, each of whom contributed hat tricks. Since losing an overtime contest to North Carolina on Feb. 12 to start the regular season, UF is on an impressive eight-game winning streak.

4 » Competing for the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, No. 1 Florida gymnastics (17-2, 5-1 SEC) dropped a heart-breaker to the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide 197.225-196.975. The Gators won the bars and floor exercises, but the Crimson Tide used greater total margins in the vault and beam to improve their team total and capture the crown. After the event, Florida’s Rhonda Faehn was named 2011 SEC Coach of the Year for the fourth overall and second-straight time, and Alaina Johnson was awarded with 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year.

5 » Failing to qualify for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Gators women’s basketball (19-14) accepted a bid to the 2011 Women’s National invitation Tournament and defeated the UMBC Retrievers (20-12) 59-47 in first-round action on Friday. Redshirt junior guard Jordan Jones scored a game-high 18 points for Florida, which will ply Florida Gulf Coast (28-3) in the second round on Monday at 7:05 p.m.

6 » No. 13 UF men’s tennis (11-5, 4-1 SEC) dropped a pair of head-to-heads over the weekend as they were defeated by the No. 3 USC Trojans (14-2) 4-3 on Thursday and Rebels (9-4, 3-2 SEC) 4-3 on Saturday. No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix lost all four of his events including both singles matches and both doubles matches as the No. 46 duo with teammate sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr.

TWO BITS: Boynton’s ankle, Tebow and Fredette

1 » Injuring his ankle after coming down awkwardly on a three-point attempt, Florida Gators sophomore guard Kenny Boynton is expected to be fine for Thursday’s Sweet 16 match-up with the BYU Cougars. “There’s a bit of swelling at this point,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “We do not expect him to be in a position where he shouldn’t be able to play. [He] should be fine, should be ready to play.” Donovan also mentioned that Boynton may miss some practice this week while rehabbing the ankle and making sure it is strong enough to play starter’s minutes in the Southeast Regional Semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Tournament in New Orleans, LA. When Florida and BYU squared off just one year ago, Boynton posted a career-high 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting (5-of-10 from downtown). However, he fouled out with 3:57 remaining in the second overtime and the Cougars, fueled by star G Jimmer Fredette’s 37 points, went on to win 99-92.

2 » Speaking of Fredette, the comparisons drawn between him and former Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow over the past week have been plenty. Both team leaders who have strong convictions, the players have each received their share of praise and criticism. Asked about having a lot in common with Tebow last Wednesday, Fredette was pleased with the comparison. “I think Tim Tebow is a great guy, a great football player and a great leader,” he told The Denver Post. “I think that one of his greatest qualities is that he knows how to get his team to play the best [it] possibly can. That’s what I try to do, go out there and lead by example, try to say some things, try to get my team motivated to go out and play. He’s been a great story, similar in that people have doubted us throughout our careers. But one thing about both of us I think is that we’re very mentally tough. And we want to show these people that we can do these things, we can go out there and be successful at any level.”

Florida vs. BYU start time set for Thursday

The No. 2-seed Florida Gators (28-7) will face the No. 3-seed BYU Cougars (32-4) in the Southeast Regional Semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7:27 p.m., the NCAA announced Sunday evening. The game will air live on TBS with Gus Johnson doing play-by-play and Len Elmore providing color commentary.

Florida and BYU will square off in a rematch of the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Cougars defeated the Gators 99-92 in double overtime with BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette scoring a game-high 37 points on 50 percent shooting. Florida, a No. 10-seed to their opponent’s No. 7-seed, had opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and at the conclusion of the first overtime but failed on both occasions.

Gators head coach Billy Donovan will speak to the media on Monday as the team begins practice for the Sweet 16 contest in New Orleans, LA.

Florida baseball wins three at LSU for first time

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (18-2, 3-0 SEC) completed a three-game series sweep of the No. 5 LSU Tigers (16-4, 0-3 SEC) over the weekend on the road in Baton Rouge, LA to mark the first time in school history that feat has been accomplished.

Florida outscored LSU 13-7 during the series, hit three home runs and batted .314 (32-for-102) as a team compared to .260 (27-for-104) for their opponent.

Friday: Down 3-2 headed into the top of the ninth inning, the Gators rallied to score three runs in the frame and eventually held on to defeat the Tigers 5-4. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson got the start for Florida and gave up two earned runs in five hits through 5.1 innings. Junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo (2-1) relieved him and picked up the win, while junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani (S3) tossed a solid ninth only giving up a single unearned run. Leading the Gators offensively were Johnson (2-4, RBI), sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4, 2 RBI, BB) and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R). With one out in the ninth, Zunino hit a solo shot to left to tie the game at three runs apiece. Fonatna finished the rally with a two-RBI single to right field four batters later.

Saturday: The second game in the series saw much less offense as trio of UF pitchers – sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (3-0) and juniors RHP Greg Larson and LHP Nick Maronde (S1) – combined to complete a 1-0 shutout of LSU. Florida scored their single run just minutes into the game as Fontana (1-3, R, BB) began the contest with a leadoff walk and junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, RBI) doubled to right center to send him across home plate. Randall scattered eight hits over 6.2 innings but never gave up the tying run as the Tigers were unable to capitalize. After Larson finished out the seventh and began the eighth, Mardone came in to close it out and notched strikeouts in four of the game’s five final outs.

Sunday: Down 3-0 through three innings in the third game of the series, the Gators rallied to score seven unanswered runs as they completed the road sweep in exciting fashion. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson began on the hill for Florida but struggled with his command, giving up six hits, four walks and three runs (two earned) in 4.2 innings while striking out four. Sophomore first baseman/RHP Austin Maddox (1-0) earned his first career win in relief of Whitson, allowing only two hits and striking out three over the final 4.1 innings of the game. Faced with a three-run deficit, the Gators rallied to score five in the top of the fourth and immediately take the lead.

With the bases loaded on three-straight singles, Zunino (1-4, 2 RBI, R) added a fourth to drive in two runs. After two ground outs, junior Jeff Moyer (3-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) pinch hit for sophomore third baseman Cody Dent (1-1); he hit a two-RBI single to center. Fontana (2-4, RBI, BB) completed the rally with a triple to right center to score Moyer and put UF on top 5-3. Solo shots from senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-4, RBI, R) in the sixth and Moyer in the ninth completed the Gators’ scoring efforts and ensured they would leave Baton Rouge with the clean sweep.

Florida, currently on a season-long eight-game winning streak, returns to Gainesville, FL for a five-game home stand including two against Winthrop (Tuesday-Wednesday) and a three-game series against South Carolina (Friday-Sunday).

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